Apple looking to simplify home theater surround sound configuration

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Apple has shown interest in making it easier to properly configure surround sound to get the best possible audio out of a variety of home theater setups.

The details were revealed this week in a patent application discovered by AppleInsider entitled "Multi-Channel Sound Panner." The filing was made with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in March of this year, and is a divisional application of a filing first made in 2007.

The proposed invention describes a software sound "panner" that can support an arbitrary number of input channels and changes to configurations. In this manner, Apple's system could support all kinds of surround sound configurations and provide users with the best possible sound presentation.

There are a great deal of variables when setting up a surround sound system, including the number of speakers, the placement of those speakers, where the user is located relative to the speakers, and the size and shape of the room where the home theater is set up.

Sound systems are traditionally arranged with five speakers and a subwoofer, otherwise known as 5.1. But modern content and receivers can support more complex speaker arrangements that offer improved surround sound capabilities if users so choose.

A sound panner allows the user to manipulate source audio of content and improve the quality of its surround sound. But conventional sound panners can be complex and time consuming, presenting users with too many options and requiring them to set up one speaker at a time.

"Given the number of variables that affect the sound manipulation, and the interplay between the variables, it is difficult to visually convey information to the operator in a way that is most helpful to manipulate the sound to create the desired sound," the filing reads.

Apple's solution is a panner that would allow users to manipulate a source audio signal as it applies to all speakers in the surround sound setup at once.

This system would allow the user to "view how the manipulated source signal will be heard by a listener at a reference point in a sound space." In this manner, content could be designed to more quickly get the best possible performance out of any home theater setup.

The filing describes Apple's sound panner as a system that "seamlessly handles changes in the number of input channels." In this way, content could be easily encoded for five, seven or some other number of sound channels.

"Also, the panner supports changes to the number and positions of speakers in the output space," the patent application reads.

The description of Apple's sound panner software includes a "puck" in its interface that the user drags around to change the sound output. In this manner, a user is given visual feedback to better understand how the sound is being manipulated.

This "puck" would represent the point at which the sound of all the channels in a user's home theater setup would appear to originate from the perspective of a listener in the middle of the sound space.

"For example, if the five channels represented a gunshot, then the operator could make the gunshot appear to originate from a particular point by moving the puck... to that point," the filing states.

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The proposed invention is credited to Aaron Eppolito, a software engineer at Apple. Its publication by the USPTO this week is particularly interesting as rumors of a full-fledged television set from Apple continue to persist.

While much has been made of the potential screen and software of an anticipated Apple television, nothing has been said about the sound capabilities of such a device. Most current HDTVs feature weak built-in speakers that do not offer high-quality sound, requiring users to purchase external speakers and systems that provide improved audio.